6 Marks of an Unhealthy Relationship

Gaby Lim

September 25, 2019

Relationships are highly valuable. We humans are not meant to live alone in this world. We’d go crazy! Relationships give us comfort and joy, keep us in check, and help us grow in this life and in our walk with God. The fun that our relationships provide is sometimes the only reason we want to step out of the house.

Whether we know it or not, relationships are ordained by God. He places people in our lives for different purposes. Some friends challenge us to grow in our relationship with God. Some help us relate with others better. While other friends are the ones we walk with and help grow. We want to be with our friends whenever they need us or whenever we need them. We learn to depend on them, support them, and love them no matter what.

But the truth is that not all relationships are worth keeping. While we should not treat relationships as disposable, we must also be discerning in knowing which relationships we should keep. We must be aware and reflect on our relationships to know when we’re in a potentially unhealthy one.

Here are some tell-tale marks of an unhealthy relationship:

1. Gossip

Proverbs 20:19 (NLT) says, A gossip goes around telling secrets, so don’t hang around with chatterers.” Spreading rumors, even those disguised as prayer requests or pleas for advice, is gossip. Even if we fool ourselves into thinking that we’re just “letting out steam,” God knows our hearts. Gossip hurts our relationship with others and with God.

Has your friendship become a venue for gossiping about other people? Maybe it’s time to reevaluate your friendship. Ask God as to how you should handle this situation. You may want to confront the person who is intentionally or unintentionally spreading rumors about you and help him or her fight the urge to gossip. Remember that cutting off a relationship is your last resort.

2. Flattery

Receiving feedback from people is not always easy, even if it is meant to be constructive or objective. But what makes it easy to receive feedback and constructive criticism is when we know that the person it came from has our best interest at heart.

Proverbs 27:6 (NASB) says, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but deceitful are the kisses of an enemy.” It is better to receive the truth from a person who wants the best for us rather than receiving flattery from someone who just wants to make us feel good. A person who flatters us and lies about our flaws is not a true friend at all.

Flattery is dishonesty; it robs us of the opportunity to grow. True friends are not afraid to speak the truth in love, because they seek to please God and not the other person.

3. Pointless Arguing

Some people love debates. They see these as passionate yet intellectual discussions that add to their knowledge. But there are some debates that are not worth getting into. We should avoid getting into arguments over petty things or if the other person doesn’t even have the intention of finding the truth (Titus 3:9–11).

4. Entitlement and Manipulation

We must be aware of people who are skillful in twisting words and playing others’ emotions just to get what they want.

Are there people in your life that guilt-trip you into prioritizing them over everything else in your life? God wants us to be humble and loving, to love others as He loves us. But He also calls us to serve His purpose and not seek the approval of man (Galatians 1:10). At the end of the day, we serve and love others to point them back to God, not to be their functional savior.

5. Unreasonable Anger

Make no friendship with a man given to anger, nor go with a wrathful man, lest you learn his ways and entangle yourself in a snare.

Proverbs 22:24,25

Anger is a valid emotion and is not bad when properly released or when it is directed at the right cause, such as evil and injustice. Jesus Himself was angered by corruption and hypocrisy.

Uncontrolled anger, on the other hand, is an indication of an unhealthy state of emotions. If you’re in a relationship with someone who is quickly angered for no apparent reason and shows no willingness to change or to ask for help, then maybe it’s time to reevaluate your relationship with that person before it leads to further issues such as abuse. Ask God for the wisdom on what to do with the person. You can try to help them by redirecting the passion they feel in their anger to something worthwhile and productive.

6. Abuse

Abuse takes different forms. It may be mental, emotional, physical, verbal, or even sexual. Some of these happen intentionally. We may notice it right away as it happens in our relationships. But some are not as noticeable as the other forms.

God doesn’t want us to stay in abusive relationships. Removing yourself from an abusive relationship is following God’s will to honor Him in your relationships. Your life is so valuable that Jesus shed His blood for you, and we honor Him when we take care of our health (1 Corinthians 6:20).

If you realize that you have practiced these unhealthy behaviors or have allowed yourself to get into such unhealthy relationships then perhaps it’s time to:

  1. Repent. Ask God for forgiveness for your own sinful actions or for letting yourself succumb to false authority.
  2. Claim the forgiveness and freedom that comes from Christ.
  3. Learn to say no to such behavior in yourself and in other people. Be polite yet firm in saying no to others (Matthew 5:37). If you consider Jesus as your Lord, remember that you are a child of the light and not of darkness. Take no part in sinful behavior and cut ties if needed so you can allow space for repentance.
  4. Pray for yourself and the person/s involved. You can voice out your hurt and complaints to God (Psalm 142), but you can also speak a prayer of blessing. Ask the Holy Spirit for a revelation of truth and love. Remember that God is in the business of transforming and redeeming even unhealthy relationships.
  5. If you’re in an abusive relationship, seek professional help. God has placed people in our lives to help us heal and become a source of healing for others. But you also must intentionally seek help from people like counselors to help you process how you’re doing and how you can get out of the relationship.

Placing boundaries in our relationships should not excuse us from loving people. Rather, it helps us reflect if we see sinful patterns in our relationships. Before pointing fingers at the other party, we first need to look at ourselves. “Are there things that I am doing in this relationship that are not pleasing to God?” We may have to change how we relate to others.

If the problem lies with the other party, then maybe it’s time to establish clear, healthy, and biblical boundaries or limitations in the relationship. We shouldn’t create boundaries to be hurtful (although it can be an inevitable result) or to get revenge. Rather, we do it because we are hopeful that the consequences of a person’s sinful actions would lead them to turn away from sin.

Ultimately, we have to trust that God is doing a good work in this person’s life the same way He does in us.


The Author

Gaby Lim

Gaby Lim is a book hoarder and dog lover. One of her dreams is to be able to help the poor and marginalized in sustainable ways. A former atheist, she’s grateful to God for changing her life. Gaby is a volunteer at Every Nation Campus Ortigas.